Futurism is a practice with an increasing level of professionalism and process. Futurologists, trend forecasters, and strategists use a variety of different methodologies to understand what’s happening, filter the noise and try to inform and qualify their predictions.
At Book of the Future we have created our own approach that we call Intersection, to allow us to make practical predictions and inform the advice we give to clients. Specifically it is designed to help us understand and demonstrate how macro trends, related to or driven by technology, will impact on the specific sectors our clients are working within.
The process starts with our ‘3D Lens’: we believe that in a specific place (the UK) and over a specific period (the next twenty years), technology will be the biggest driver of change. This is predicated on the simple fact that within the time and space boundaries specified, we are expecting only steady, linear change in the other classic PESTLE factors — Political, Economic, Social, Legal, Environmental. By contrast technology is advancing at an exponential rate, as described by Moore’s Law, and this advance is touching every area of life and work.
Of course there is a small chance that we will have a revolution or a massive natural disaster, or other shock event in the UK in the next twenty years. One that may have an enormous impact. But our role as futurists is not to try and second guess the un-guessable — the ‘black swan’ events. It is to help the organisations that we work with to adapt to the visible future, the one that we believe will define the macro picture and that is already defining it today. As William Gibson said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” We operate in the small pockets of the future that are here today and we help to expand them to encompass our clients.
Within the scope of our 3D ‘Lens’ we break the primary technology-driven trends down to five core areas:
Put simply, things happen faster. Rich data moves at the speed of light around the world. Financial transactions take place so fast that they can no longer be handled by humans.
This changes businesses: there’s no value in six month old data when someone else can supply it real-time.
And it changes expectations: consumers and business users alike are rapidly frustrated by anything but an instantaneous response.
If there is a technological solution to a problem and it doesn’t cause grievous social harm, then someone will probably implement it.
If there are legal, environmental, social, financial or technical barriers that need to be overcome, then they likely will be and sooner than you think.
Technology has been shrinking in size and cost, and growing in power and usability at an exponential rate for decades.
This trend will continue to the point where technology is near-invisibly integrated into the environment around us and we are not always aware when the capabilities we are using are ‘normal’ human, or augmented by technology
Business success in the past was often characterised by the ability to optimise processes, supply chains, prices.
This retains value, but as models, channels and demands are changing faster and faster, success is increasingly defined by agility: the ability to enter and conquer new markets and opportunities fast.
This affects the structure of organisations: rather than slick, vertically integrated monoliths they need to be stratified into loosely coupled layers.
Each layer interfaces with the other but might also interface with third parties, offering its thin layer of optimised service as a building block in other people’s value stack.
Technology has lowered the barriers to market entry. The capital costs of a start-up, barring any physical stock, are trending towards zero.
This means more players in any market but also more models, and more channels.
There won’t be a single paradigm in any industry any more: competitors may supply the same products or services in different ways.
Likewise, many and various sub-cultures and micro-markets will exist on a variety of standardised, open platforms.
There is a growing global community that exists outside of national borders. They share an increasingly common culture, albeit coloured by local norms.
Social networks now capture a huge proportion of the global conversation, just as digital media services ensure the wide spread of common cultural reference points.
The last step towards true globalisation will be brought about by the ease with which products can now be moved: as data.
The rules of manufacturing and the supply chain are about to be radically re-written by hyper-local, automated manufacture, placing a huge emphasis on the ready supply of a variety of basic feed stocks.
With each organisation that we work with we look for the market impact of these macro trends, and we focus on areas of stress that already exist in the business. These are often surprisingly easy to find, at least when coming in with a fresh perspective, and appear in all areas of the business. New competition, changes in regulation, rising materials or labour costs, poor customer or supplier engagement, falling budgets or margins, breakdowns in compliance. You can usually find some of these in the industry press before you even start interviewing members of the organisation.
For each stress that we find, we test it against the macro trends and look to see whether it might be mitigated or exacerbated. We try to estimate the scale of the potential impact. Sometimes this is very hard, sometimes it is quite straightforward: if a formerly physical product can now be delivered digitally, the supply chain costs are likely to be orders of magnitude smaller.
Once we have assessed the market impact we can begin to rank the intersections and focus on those that will have the greatest effect. In reality the solutions we design around these intersections are often structural changes that will help to address others as well.
Narrative vs Empirical
You couldn’t call this process scientific. There is no repeatable experiment. Different people following the same methodology might achieve a different result (though we are trying to formalise the process within the organisation at least, so that there is consistency across future engagements). But the evidence from our interactions with clients over the last 18 months is that it undoubtedly valuable.
Feel free to use the information this post to try to replicate the process in your organisation. Or if you’d like some help, you can always drop us a line.